1945 Ohio State football season was a doozy for its off-field drama

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra
Fullback Ollie Cline, here trying to find yardage in a Nov. 17, 1945, game against Illinois, was named the Big Ten's most valuable player that season by rushing for a league-high 936 yards.

Editor’s note: Ohio State has never played a game on Dec. 5 – to say nothing of Dec. 12 and 19 – so for the final three weeks of the season we will look back at some anniversary seasons in OSU history. Today: Diamond, 1945. 

Setup 

Ohio State suffered its first loss of the 1945 season back on Feb. 8 of that year, when “coach in absentia” Paul Brown made his absentia permanens by signing with Arthur “Mickey” McBride to be coach and general manager of the Cleveland franchise in the All-America Football Conference. Brown had coached the Buckeyes from 1941-43, winning a national title in ’42, before taking a commission with the U.S. Navy. Carroll Widdoes, who served as OSU’s interim coach in 1944 and led the Buckeyes to a 9-0 record, was installed as head coach on Feb. 14. But his permanence proved fleeting.

Ohio State coach Carroll Widdoes was featured on the cover of The Dispatch's Sunday Magazine on Oct. 7, 1945.

High point 

At home against Northwestern on Nov. 3, Ohio State fell behind 14-0 in the first 10 minutes and then slowly chipped away despite fumble issues, pulling to 14-13 on Ollie Cline’s second touchdown run, in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes then won the game, 16-14, on freshman Max Schnittker’s 32-yard field goal from the right hash with 1:28 remaining. 

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Low point 

After beating Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin by a combined score of 101-6 to open the season, No. 4 Ohio State fell behind Purdue 22-0 in the first half on the way to a 35-13 defeat. As the story goes, the Ohio Stadium crowd booed the Buckeyes as they left the field at halftime, an act that surprised and deeply wounded Widdoes, who had won his first 12 games in Brown’s stead. OSU also suffered a season-ending, 7-3 loss to Michigan in frigid Ann Arbor on Nov. 24 to finish 7-2. 

Stars 

Fullback Ollie Cline became the fourth Ohio State player to win the Silver Football award as the Big Ten’s most valuable player. Cline led the conference in rushing (936 yards) and scoring (nine touchdowns). Along with Cline, guard Warren Amling and tackle Russ Thomas also were named first-team all-Big Ten and all-America. 

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Aftermath 

Widdoes was a deeply private man who had no taste for dealings with the press and alumni. As OSU’s head coach, he was known to sit on the bench rather than stand on the sideline. In truth, he never aspired to be head coach at a football factory such as Ohio State and by the end of his second season in charge he’d had enough. A little more than a month after the season, Widdoes proposed that he swap jobs with fellow assistant Paul Bixler, and on Jan. 2, 1946, the university’s athletic council approved the unprecedented switch.

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Ohio State head coach Carroll Widdoes, left, and assistant coach Paul Bixler made an unprecedented job switch after the 1945 season. Widdoes stated that he "never aspired" to be head coach after Paul Brown's departure.

Quotable 

“It’s a vile tale without basis of fact. Carroll Widdoes is still our head coach.” — L.W. St. John, Ohio State’s athletic director, on rumors of Widdoes’ plan to step down, on Jan. 1 

“(Two) years ago I fell heir to the position of head coach, a position to which I never aspired.” — Widdoes, in a letter to St. John dated Dec. 28. 

rstein@dispatch.com